Originally created 06/19/03

Time to do this right

The Augusta Commission is to be commended for not jumping on the bandwagon Tuesday to build the new judicial center on Reynolds Street riverfront land as recommended by the advisory panel of elected and appointed officials.

Commissioners are wise to go slow. Selecting the best site for the downtown courts complex will be one of the most important, indeed historic, decisions this commission will make.

It would be reckless to blindly accept the advisory panel's suggestions without first looking at the project in a larger context.

The larger context calls for taking account of a confluence of hugely important projects - a sports coliseum, performing arts center, exhibit and trade center, library, jail, city offices and more - now in the planning stages and awaiting voters' approval to extend the local penny sales tax for 10 more years.

This presents a marvelous opportunity to coordinate all these projects in an architecturally integrated fashion. Imagine: A cluster of classical architecture that provides both timeless aesthetics and state-of-the-art functionality could truly set Augusta apart.

These projects will do no less than transform the city's appearance and its delivery of services for decades to come. The only question is whether they will do so in a manner befitting a historic, yet progressive community.

Thus, the decision of where to put the judicial complex should not be made in isolation. It should be engagingly coordinated with the other projects. That is our urgent recommendation, and we implore commissioners to consider it - the big picture - carefully.

Take the time to review the ramifications. This is a chance for all of us to work together to improve our community. After all, we'll have to live with the results well into the 21st century.

Our criticism with the advisory panel's recommendation to build the judicial center on downtown riverfront property is the same as it was when the idea was first floated three years ago.

A judicial center will close weekdays at 5 p.m. and all day on weekends. And it won't add to the tax digest. Clearly, that's not the best use for such prime, scarce real estate.

Riverfront property is much better suited for vibrant commercial and residential projects which will generate the kind of economic vitality that will not only bring in tax revenues, but also ring in a higher quality of life. A city commission struggling with tight budgets year in and year out should surely see the wisdom in that.

Smart, coordinated architectural planning is key to creating a more appealing and prosperous community. That's the plan we need to get on with.

The Augusta Commission wisely bought us time with which to do that.


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